Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year A), 2017.
Today’s Lesson from the Book of Zechariah is a perfect example of the kind of Scripture the first Christians of the early Church would have used to understand who Jesus of Nazareth truly was. I have spoken previously about the practice of “mystagogy”—of being led into the mysteries of God, of revisiting our experiences to find in them a still greater depth and significance—and the prophet Zechariah provided the early Church, and provides us, with just that kind of opportunity. To do mystagogy is not merely to look at words on the biblical page, and not merely to think about a superficial reading, but rather mystagogy is to enter into the space evoked by the scriptural words. It is deep listening with all of our human faculties, listening for resonances with other parts of the Bible, with our Liturgy, and with our own experiences.
Mystagogy is what Jesus did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, when “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Jesus found the bits and images in the Scriptures that foreshadowed His incarnation and saving work, bits seen and recognized in an initial form by the inspired writers of the Old Testament that came to their fullness in Him. We are invited to do the same.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!” When we hear this words with freedom within our Christian experience, do those words not remind us of the Easter message? To rejoice and shout aloud—this is also our experience of Advent and the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Zechariah, by the grace of God, sees in his present the future events of God’s Providence.
This is even clearer in the next verse from Zechariah: “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.” What a clear sense of what the Church has come to call “Palm Sunday,” when Jesus enters Jerusalem riding just such a creature, and all the people of Jerusalem are rejoicing. Can we imagine the wonder and awe when the first Christians, their hearts inflamed by the coming of the Holy Spirit, Who led them into the deep truths of Jesus Christ, saw the connections between this image of a king riding on an ass and their actual memory of Jesus doing the exact same thing? We, too, can recognize the glory of seeing how God acts through history, in history, and indeed makes history. We, too, can recognize with the early Church a wondrous revelation: that the Incarnation of God was not just a period of thirty-three years isolated from the rest of history, but indeed was coming to be in all the moments that led to Blessed Mary saying Yes to God, her saying Yes to the Incarnation. The Incarnation of God, therefore, reached a climax in birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, yet in the centuries of history before, God’s taking of human flesh, His blessing of human flesh, His breaking of human flesh, and His giving of human flesh was progressive movement of God’s revelation to man of Himself and His nature.
And then to read these words in Zechariah: “Because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit.” Can we imagine the solace and consolation that the early Church felt when they read these scriptures by the light of Christ? They would hear these words, and their meaning would be multiplied by these words of Jesus Himself, uttered on the night before He died: “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” The new covenant in my blood—the Eucharist, and this too was prophesied by Zechariah, and so the significance of the Eucharist gained a profound richness because the early Church saw that in instituting it, Jesus wanted to set captives free—free from their wounds, free from the bondage we have to our wounds, free from our actions, words, and thoughts being controlled by our wounds—indeed, the waterless pit of our wounds.
And then to remember the words recorded by Saint Matthew in our Gospel Lesson today: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It is by searching the Scriptures, reading them in this mystagogical way by which we are led into the mystery that transcends reason without contradicting it, led into the mystery of Jesus which is at the same time the mystery of who God intends and calls us to be—for the mystery of Jesus is our own mystery as well—it is by searching the Scriptures day to day, week to week in prayer that we do the work necessary to be able to see Jesus for Who He is: gentle, lowly in heart, loving and divinely hospitable. In the words of Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Amen.